Saturday, March 8, 2014

Books on Film: Camille

I only recently learned that one of my all-time favorite movies was actually based on a book. It's not my fault for not knowing this; the book is French, and it was written in 1848. But the story itself is timeless.

The Book

Alexandre Dumas, more famously known for The Three Musketeers, wrote The Lady of the Camellias in 1848, before the United States ever waged its Civil War. The story is so popular, it became a stage adaptation almost immediately. Many film adaptions would follow. The book also inspired the opera La Traviata and a popular Broadway play. According to legend, the main character in the book was based on the real-life lover of Dumas, Marie Duplessis.

That character is Marguerite Gautier, a courtesan. In other words, she lives off the kindness of stranger like so many great heroines (think Holly Golightly, in a far different time and place). She is known as the lady of the camellias because she wears white camellias when she is available to her lovers. When the red camellia is donned instead, she cannot entertain.

By chance one night, she meets Armand Duval. They fall in love, and all is well until Armand's father intervenes. It all leads up to a heart-wrenching ending that you have to experience for yourself. The character of Marguerite Gautier has become one of the most coveted roles of all time. On stage, Sarah Bernhardt played her in London, Paris and on Broadway.

The Film

There are almost too many adaptations of this story to count. Across multiple countries, at least 20 different films have been made. But among them, I have one particular favorite: Camille

It was made in 1936, and it stars Greta Garbo in the title role. She's sensational as the flirty woman of the evening, who entertains friends lavishly and does exactly as she pleases. She plays with heartstrings until she finally meets a man who can touch hers. Camille is truly one of the most romantic movies ever made.

This particular version was directed by George Cukor, so you know it's good. Robert Taylor stars as Armand and Lionel Barrymore does a strong turn as his father. If you've seen Annie, you know Camille. It's the movie they watch together in the empty theater. It's every bit as good as it looks and too amazing to spoil, so go watch it for yourself already!

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